The art of Scenic Construction

27 June 2018

Photo: Nicholas Day backstage at NIDA Theatres Parade Theatre (photo: Maja Baska)

Each month we're catching up with a different Head of Department at NIDA, to show you the artist behind the creative leader. June is the turn of NIDA’s Head of Scenic Construction and Technologies and Production Manager Nicholas Day.

Nicholas Day started out as a visual artist, learning painting and photography at art school and developing his own practice. A day in Sydney would change the course of his career.

‘Looking to make some money, it was suggested that working backstage would suit my needs so I drove up and knocked on the stage door of the Opera House and that night I was working on the set of Sidney Nolan’s design of La Traviata. This was live painting on a massive scale and it was a bit of an epiphany for me. I loved it.'

‘My father was a clever man with his hands and taught me a lot about putting things together,’ said Nicholas. ‘When I was working on that stage I thought, yes I’m at home here, it brought all my skills together. From there it was a baptism of fire really. It’s true I was no longer a fine artist, but I was working in design and technology and form and function, and weighing up budgets of course.’

After extensive experience across theatre, film and live events in Australia and internationally in production, design and construction, Nicholas Day was appointed as Production Manager/Head of Production Crafts at NIDA in 2006. ‘I remember reading the job description and I thought ‘hey they are describing me!’

‘The wonderful thing about working in performance is that no two days or shows, or projects are ever the same. Every day you are dealing with the different treatment of problems and priorities. What I love at NIDA is engaging with students who are going through a growth stage in their career, which adds another differential to it. It makes each new project fresh.’

Photo: NIDA's production of Salem at NIDA Theatres Playhouse created a pool with a rain effect.(Photo: Lisa Tomasetti)

At NIDA, Nicholas was instrumental in launching NIDA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (Scenic Construction and Technologies), the first of its kind of Australia and only one of a few internationally.

‘We were inspired by a student who had come to NIDA with a computer science and scenery skill set. His skills were in demand so we looked at what the industry was looking for and wrote the course around that, including automation, construction and engineering. Most scenic construction courses revolve around fabrication and workshop management, I was inspired by Yale’s postgraduate course which goes into electronics as well as structural and mechanical engineering.’

Nicholas is interested in the boundaries of technology that the students are always pushing. ‘When you see a student’s triumph it’s very heartwarming. All the students are amazing and great here, and they all have their different points of interest.’

Third-year student Kallan Crosbie is exploring a rain project in terms of installation art. ‘We do rain a lot here at NIDA, in the theatres and also in the Atrium. It’s always a nightmare!’ laughs Nicholas.

Kallan was interested in things like the Rain Room in the UK which allowed people to walk through a room full of rain without getting wet.

‘I’m interested to see what Kal does and how he gets hold of it,’ says Nicholas. ‘He’s been doing a fair bit of research and development for a possible project as part of our October productions. There are issues around water flow and the control of it, so it doesn’t sound like someone has just turned a hose on for example. There are a lot of subtleties in the technology.’

Despite an extremely busy schedule, Nicholas has never lost the love of making. ‘I’ve always flipped from making jobs to management jobs. Even now I try and make something in the production program. I still like to see something on stage that’s mine.’

Learn more about NIDA's BFA (Scenic Construction and Technologies) here.

Applications for NIDA courses open on Monday 2 July and close 30 September.